Yelp has been the center of much controversy this year. In April we reported that Yelp was allegedly refusing to display positive reviews for certain businesses weren’t paying for ads.
That case made its way to a federal appeals court, where the Wall Street Journal reports that the case was thrown out this past Thursday. The case was brought about by small business owners claiming that Yelp extorted advertising payments from them by manipulating reviews on its site.
According to the ruling, small business owners aren’t inherently entitled to have positive reviews appear on their Yelp page.
While Yelp has been accused for some time by small business owners their their salespeople use hard sell methods to push advertising, even going as far as to remove positive reviews from their listings if they refuse to buy ads, yelp has said it doesn’t do that and that its system for filtering reviews is automated.
But even if the accusations were found to be true, the court ruling means that those businesses aren’t necessarily being extorted, and Yelp is not violating federal law.
Judge Berzon explains that the law does not require Yelp to publish positive reviews in the first place:
By withholding the benefit of these positive reviews Yelp is withholding a benefit that Yelp makes possible and maintains. It has no obligation to do so, however.
The plaintiff’s attorney Lawrence Murray, says Yelp users should question whether or not to trust Yelp’s ratings given that they could potentially be manipulated to force merchants to pay for advertising. “If you had any concern about Yelp’s accuracy before, you’re going to be up a creek now.”
Yelp’s Senior Director of Litigation wrote in a blog post that these allegations are unfounded:
For years, fringe commentators have accused Yelp of altering business ratings for money. Yelp has never done this and individuals making such claims are either misinformed, or more typically, have an axe to grind.
Whether or not Yelp actually manipulated its presentation of reviews is still undetermined.